LOS ANGELES — Daewon Song estimated he’s maybe already gone through six cups of coffee. It’s not even 11 a.m., but he’s been up since 5:30 with his 15-month-old daughter.
The pro-skateboarder, inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame in 2017, on Sunday will see the premiere of a documentary presented by Adidas Skateboarding and Transworld Skateboarding, called “Daewon” and detailing his career in skateboarding.
“It’s a little uncomfortable,” Song said of the film. “I was the kid that was, like, when I was late for class and I had to do the pledge of allegiance in front of everyone, I was just sweating bricks…. You just have to sit back and hope for the best and it’s seriously an honor. I’m pretty curious, too, because I’ve only seen snippets of it. It’s a little like, ‘I hope I didn’t say nothing weird.’ It’s always hard to watch yourself.”
Song, who was born in Seoul and later moved with his family to Gardena, picked up a board and hasn’t looked back, creating a name for himself with his skating style, turning pro in 1991.
He said he hopes the documentary gives people a bit more of a glimpse into who he was as a kid and provides a nice balance into the fun of the sport but also exposes some of the pressures: the judgment, the criticism and the competition.
Song stood on his first board, one he saw laying out on a neighbor’s lawn rusted and baked in the sun.
“Just something in it, I got so excited,” he said.
His parents later bought him his first skateboard, which was stolen about two weeks later at a doughnut shop. That was the last time they bought him a board. Other people in the neighborhood started giving him hand-me-downs of various parts until he had enough to assemble his own.
“It was 16 different parts that didn’t belong together, but it was something,” he said.
Song said he continued skating, but as he got older many of his friends parted ways with the sport.
“Everybody started gangbanging. They just wanted to do troublesome stuff,” he said. “There was a point in my life, too, where I did get caught up in a lot of stupid things. I even got jumped into a small gang and I was still slightly a skateboarder. Skateboarding just pulled me out. It’s weird. I’m not sitting here trying to sound cheesy or corny saying my skateboard saved my life, but honestly it did a lot for me. It was like a buddy for me.”
Over the course of time, plenty has changed. Skateboarding is more popular and will debut at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo next year. More brands than ever have popped up — large and small — to sponsor riders. And social media, as with everything else, has changed the game in many ways.
“Before when we would do new tricks, we had to wait a year-and-a-half before it surfaced. So we were always behind as skateboarders and so in that era, we were waiting on a DVD or even a VHS tape further back,” Song said. “By that time, the progression is we’re already a year-and-a-half, two years late. You didn’t have an outlet to see what was going on and what was the now. You were always in the past. I think now with social media everything just happens fast. I can turn on my phone and go to four different outlets of skateboarding and see something new every 10 minutes.”
The business around the sport continues to persist, but the less glamorous aspects of it are often left off social media.
“Skateboarding doesn’t work like a normal job,” Song said. “Once the [sponsor] company’s gone, it’s gone and you need to keep skateboarding, progress and try to find something for yourself and don’t look back….It’s a cutthroat industry. You get hurt sometimes or you’re not doing well and you just get cut [from the team]. There’s no, ‘Hey, thanks.’ There’s only so many companies out there that can support so many people. You really have to either luck out or work hard and just hope for the best. It’s crazy. I don’t ever want to turn people off to skateboarding. If you’re in it for the fun, that’s all you need.”
Riding also gave Song avenues to pursue other endeavors on the product side. The most recent of those is a collaboration with his sponsor, Adidas Skateboarding, in which he put his spin on the 3MC. The navy shoe boasts a print Song said is reminiscent of checkers.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t like checkers. I love checkers,” Song said. “I really did enjoy it. It takes me back to when my dad was still around.”
Song is also the cofounder of the Matix Clothing label, which he formed in 1998 with pro-skateboarder Tim Gavin and Podium Distribution. He parted ways with the firm, which was sold to Westlife Distribution in 2012, a few years ago. Song was also with skateboard distributor Dwindle Distribution for nearly 29 years, but more recently severed ties there to forge his own path.
“There was no hard feelings or nothing like that,” he said of the decision. “For me, in my career, I’m always looking for some sort of challenge, even if I go insane. I just wanted to leave and do my own thing and feel that from-the-ground-up feeling.”
That’s why he started Thank You Skate Co. last year with Torey Pudwill, which is where he’s spending the majority of his energy.
The company is predominantly focused on selling decks, but it does sell some soft goods in the way of shirts and sweatshirts. That could always expand in the future, Song said.
The business’ name is also where he’s at mentally with a focus on giving back to the sport.
“I just messed up my ankle the other day. I just bit my tongue,” he said. “I’m still out there getting beat up by this world. I still love it.”